When it Comes to Your Career Path, Are You Really Listening?

When it Comes to Your Career Path, Are You Really Listening?
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Note from MOAA: It's a challenging time to be on the job hunt, or facing employment uncertainty. Check out MOAA's Virtual Career and Transition Toolkit for upcoming webinars to help you find your path.


It may have begun as the most serious public health crisis in generations, but for many Americans, the COVID-19 pandemic is turning into an employment crisis. 


If you’re suddenly dusting off your job search playbook from the last decade, don’t forget one of the most important attributes of a successful job search: intense listening. 


No less important than a concise résumé, a polished LinkedIn profile, and well-rehearsed interview skills, intense listening is a valuable professional competence that can dramatically reduce the time it will take to find a new job and master its details, regardless of your level in the organization. 


[RELATED: MOAA's Transition and Career Center]


Intense listening has three key elements:

  • Involved silence, such as maintaining eye contact and suspending judgement, even if you disagree with the message;
  • Probes or supportive inquiry, which are often prefaced with “what” rather than the more aggressive “why”; and
  • Paraphrasing to ensure understanding, such as "I think you said ... ." 


Moreover, intense listening is not just processing a speaker’s ideas, but also absorbing some of the stress they experience from events or situations. 


Conformation bias is another barrier to intense listening and professional success. Specifically, we tend to interpret information to conform with our underlying beliefs. For example: The diagnosis of a doctor wearing a white lab coat, manifesting a serious demeanor and looking through pages of test results is credible. By contrast, the same diagnosis given by a doctor in jeans, hair askew, multitasking on a smart phone, and working without notes is not perceived as being valid. 


Nevertheless, the intense listener is wise to pause, reflect, and consider that both sources of information need to be integrated with other data to determine the best course of action. Expressed differently, strive to avoid the tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms your preconceptions. 

Listen to Learn, Learn to Listen

Intense listening and avoiding the pitfalls of conformation bias are important elements of a successful job search. The professional in career transition needs to extract actionable insights from the flood of information available from well-intentioned friends, former colleagues, networking connections, recruiters, and interviewers; some of whom may have dramatically different professional backgrounds than yours. 


[RELATED: Tips to Take Stock of Your Career Path in Uncertain Times]


At every step of the job search, challenge yourself to make sure you are really hearing what others are saying -- always being careful to suspend judgment and intensely listen with ears and eyes and mind. Some experts also refer to this technique as empathetic listening, where you seek to understand another person’s frame of reference. 


Additionally, make a conscientious effort to avoid transitioning to thinking about the answer to the question until the interviewer or speaker has completely framed the question or statement.  The essence of the question can easily be changed through a nuance or subtlety in the last phrase of a detailed question, and it is often missed if you're not listening intensely. 


The more you give others space to talk, the better you will understand them and the more willing they will be to listen themselves. 


Speaking of Intense Listening ...

MOAA is responding to the current unemployment crisis with a series of virtual events and webinars focused on every aspect of the job search and self-marketing process. More upcoming webinars are listed here. If you can’t attend the “live” sessions, register anyway and we'll send you the link to view the recorded webinar.


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About the Author

Capt. Jim Carman, USN (Ret), CAE
Capt. Jim Carman, USN (Ret), CAE

Capt. Jim Carman, USN (Ret), CAE, serves as MOAA's Vice President, Council/Chapter and Member Support. He is a Certified Association Executive and served as a Navy pilot for nearly 25 years.